I wrote a post back in November telling you how GOLDEN BOY is similar to some other books out there. Well, the follow-up question, naturally, is: How is GOLDEN BOY different from other books out there? Turns out that’s an easy question to answer. I know this because I tried my darndest to find this story out in the world before I wrote GOLDEN BOY, and failed.
When I first came across the report of the killing of people with albinism in East Africa I was distraught, and immediately looked for three things:
- objective news sources to learn more about the tragedy;
- novels written about the topic to help me process the emotions, and;
- humanitarian organizations working in the field to help do something about it.
I found the last immediately and, with some digging through international presses, found the first. But for the life of me I couldn’t find the second.
I found moving books of the difficulties of being a child in Africa, such as Ishmael Beah’s memoir, Long Way Gone; Memoirs of a boy soldier. These books told the story of normal kids fighting extraordinary circumstances, but didn’t address the unique challenges of people with albinism. I had no better luck searching in the other direction, finding only two novels published for middle grade readers that had a person with albinism as the main character. Here, I found stories of exceptional children fighting to claim ordinary circumstances, but the approach of these books bothered me: in both novels, the crux of the plot centered around the albino character joining a circus. I was aghast.
Two years later, when I was interviewing the staff at Under the Same Sun, a non-profit organization working to help those with albinism in Tanzania, I found I was not alone in this feeling. The people I interviewed there pointed out that “every single time an albino is in the media, they are the freak or the bad guy.”
So there you have it: GOLDEN BOY tells the story of Habo, an albino who is neither a freak nor a bad guy, but rather someone decidedly different struggling to claim his humanity in an inhuman world. It tells the story of a current human rights tragedy of which the world is largely unaware and on which there are no other books (and woefully few news articles) written.
To be honest, had there been any similar stories out there I don’t know that I would have been able to finish this book. The untold tragedy of people with albinism in Africa pulled me through the rough patches of writing and gave me the courage to travel to Tanzania to fact-check. The unsung heroism of the people currently working in the field drove me though the long, intense season of revision. There were times that I thought I wouldn’t be able to write this book, but the story had to be told.
And I hope it’s not too big of a spoiler to tell you that, at no point in the entire book, does Habo ever consider joining a circus.